Selecca Bulgar-Medina, director of the Maine Small Business Coalition, urges the Legislature to pass LD 1964, a bill in support of paid family and medical leave, during a press conference in Portland on Tuesday with Leopold Ndaysabye, left, owner of OneLove Homecare, Leah Deragon, co-founder and program director of Birth Roots and Catherine Rasco, founder and owner of Arabica Coffee Co. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

A coalition of 103 small businesses is urging Gov. Janet Mills and Maine lawmakers to pass legislation that would create a paid family and medical leave program, and on Tuesday showed off a letter the group plans to deliver with its plea.

The Maine Small Business Coalition, a project of the Maine People’s Alliance, is trying to demonstrate there is strong support for the bill in the business community, particularly small businesses that typically don’t offer paid leave packages. The coalition also is trying refute assertions that small-business owners would face the brunt of the bill’s costs.

“In going out into the communities, we found that small-business owners also support policies that support individuals,” the coalition’s director, Selecca Bulgar-Medina, said at a news conference in Portland. “Small business owners are humans, they have families, and they want the same things that any other private individual wants in life, in their community and in their society.”

Under the current proposal, virtually all workers in Maine could receive 12 weeks of paid leave, which would be based on the workers’ weekly wages and the average pay in the state, in order to care for a newborn baby, tend to their own extended illness or care for a sick or disabled relative.

Workers and employers with 15 or more employees on the payroll would share the cost of the benefits through a payroll tax.

But the terms haven’t been finalized yet. The bill’s sponsors, Sen. Mattie Daughtry, D-Brunswick, and Rep. Kristen Cloutier, D-Lewiston, said on May 22 that they are willing to make compromises that will help pass the legislation. The Mills administration also is recommending changes to the bill, including stricter eligibility standards and lower pay for those who do qualify.



The need for compromise comes amid opposition from Republicans and business groups, including the Maine State Chamber of Commerce, the Maine chapter of the National Federation of Independent Business, and HospitalityMaine, a trade group that represents hotels and other tourism businesses.

Catherine Rasco, left, founder and owner of Arabica Coffee Co. said, “A paid leave program would be a benefit to all businesses, regardless of size,” during a press conference in Portland on Tuesday with Leopold Ndaysabye, owner of OneLove Homecare, Leah Deragon, co-founder and program director of Birth Roots and Selecca Bulgar-Medina, director of the Maine Small Business Coalition. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

Republican legislators are concerned about potential tax hikes, while the groups are concerned that the bill in its current form would place financial burden on small businesses. Opponents also claim the proposal would worsen an ongoing worker shortage and disrupt staffing for businesses, especially in rural areas where temporary replacements could be harder to find.

However, some small-business owners disagreed Tuesday.

In the letter, which Maine People’s Alliance spokesperson Nora Flaherty-Stanford said would be sent Wednesday, the 103 business owners encourage lawmakers to pass the bill to provide employers and employees with “much-needed flexibility and financial security.”

“A state paid family and medical leave program would help level the playing field between small businesses and corporate businesses,” Arabica Coffee owner Catherine Rasco, who is also a member of the coalition, said at the news conference. “A paid leave program would be a benefit to all businesses, regardless of size. When employees are healthy and ready to work, the entire business community and local economy benefit.”


Rasco said that as a small-business owner, she wants to support her employees. But she said she can only offer scheduling flexibility because Arabica Coffee doesn’t have the financial resources that bigger companies have to pay for extended leave.

That limits her ability to compete with corporate coffee chains when trying to recruit employees, she said.

Bulgar-Medina said the bill could help alleviate some of the challenges small businesses already face. She believes the bill would improve employee retention rates, encourage workers to move to Maine and quell trends of workforce shortages.

Joseph Brown, an aggregate-hauling trucker in Milo, signed the letter because he believes the legislation would provide him and other self-employed workers with needed protections.

Brown identifies himself as a political moderate and says that he’s had “constructive debates” with conservative friends who are concerned about a rise in taxes.

Despite the partisan divide in the Legislature – and a perception that the bill would harm small businesses and employees – Brown said he believes “the good outweighs the bad.”

“It’s for the people. It’s literally for the small working-class that doesn’t have anyone standing up for them,” he said.

Not all signees of the letter are completely on board. Wayne Lagasse, owner of RT Farm and Feed in Winthrop, signed the letter but believes the bill would benefit his employees while negatively affecting his business. What he really wants is for the people to decide in a citizen referendum, he said.

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